Martin Shaw/Global Society and International Relations/Chapters 1/2/3/4/6/7


The limits of 'international society'

Contents: Ideological significance of 'international society'; The crisis of 'international society' thinking; International society and global society; From the ideology of states to global responsibility

The concept of society in general - society as opposed to the state - is, we have seen in chapter 4, a structural absence in international relations theory. Where society is admitted, it is in the limited sense of a society, in which it is identified with nation and ethnic group, themselves the social concomitants of states. While this absence or narrowness of sociological perspective weakens international theory's understanding of the breadth and depth of security issues, as we argued above, it also greatly inhibits its understanding of global society. It leads international theorists to deny the existence or minimise the relevance of global society, and to give ontological priority to the international system, or the state-system as we have called it in this book. The international system, we are led to believe, is a firm reality which structures world events, global society a nebulous concept with weak roots in reality.

The very concept of the international is, of course, highly problematic in the light of the discussion in the previous chapter. International refers, in reality, either to relations between states or, at a minimum, to relations across state boundaries which are significantly structured by these boundaries. The concept of the international is an inherently statist concept, and although it is difficult to avoid using this terminology which is so embedded in popular, political and academic language, we must always be aware of its incipient statism. Relations between states cannot be assumed to be relations between nations, and social relations across state or national boundaries cannot be assumed to be international.

The discourse within international relations theory which most acutely embodies the contradictions of the discipline is that of international society. International society, as used in this context, is neither international nor a society, but refers to a particular trend towards 'society-like' features in the state-system. In this chapter we pursue the critique of 'society' in international theory, and the contradictions of a theory of relations between states which neglects their context in global society, by unravelling the meaning and historic significance of the idea of international society.

Ideological significance of 'international society'

In order to assess the idea of international society, we must understand that the fates of theoretical concepts in the social sciences are intertwined with the development of historical reality. Concepts which are developed in an attempt to understand, even predict, the changing world are necessarily subject to the frequently unpredictable twists and turns of history. Concepts with an apparent mission to explain action are also often both articulations of how actors actually understand their actions, and intended as guides to how they might act in the future. Social-scientific concepts are a part of what they try to explain, and their relevance, validity and indeed success is conditional on the part they play.

Another way of putting this argument, which might have been more favoured in the recent past than will be today, is to say that social-scientific concepts have an 'ideological' character. Such a presentation of the case will meet with misunderstandings, associated as it is with Marxist attempts to explain away the mainstream of Western social science. It is not however necessary to adopt a Marxist stance in order to utilise the concept of 'ideology'. Nor is it necessary, even in the Marxist conception, to impute complete, let alone deliberate, falsehood to a theory because of its ideological character.

On the contrary, to suggest the ideological aspect of a theory is first of all to stress its historical significance. An ideology has a role in relation to the world of social action, which a 'purely' academic theory would lack. An ideologically important theory will also be valid, at least in that it will express important truths and a major viewpoint of a historical period, and probably in that it will articulate more lasting knowledge in the context of its time. The implication of an ideological critique is, however, that the theory is limited by its time and viewpoint, and its aim is to explicate its contradictions so as to develop a more historically adequate theory. (Such an approach need not necessarily imply, as it would in a Marxist schema, a concept of historical progress; it is also compatible with a discontinuist concept of historical change, since it is the fact of change which is important rather than its content or sequence.)

The theory of international society can be understood, it is argued here, as a central ideology of the international system in the Cold War period. This argument is presented not in order to deny the relevance of the theory, but to identify how the important insights into the system which it provides were connected to the nature of the period in which the theory was developed, and represented one position on it. Nor is this argument put forward to deny the continuing relevance of these same insights; it does, however, suggest that we have reached the moment of their maximum validity, that the contradictions of the perspective are now unfolding, and that its theoretical foundations can now be seen to be fundamentally lacking.

The argument may seem paradoxical in that, at first glance, the international society perspective does indeed seem to have gained a coherence in the post-Cold War era which it previously lacked; indeed, as we shall see, a central weakness of the case has been removed by the end of the Cold War. It is at the moment of its greatest success that we can see the decisive importance of its contradictions and the need to move beyond the limited theoretical foundations which it provides.

The crisis of 'international society' thinking

The concept of international society has been put forward by its advocates as a 'central' position for international studies, a modal alternative to the extremes of brutish Hobbesian realism and utopian Kantian idealism. It incorporates the dominant realism of the subject, in its recognition of the dominance of independent sovereign states as actors in the international system; yet it makes a nod to idealism (as well as to social-scientific functionalism) in the role it assigns to consensus among actors as the basis for 'society'-like elements in the way this system develops. (This theoretical balancing act is a source of tensions in the theory, as Nicholas Wheeler shows.)

The international society position has, of course, its own (Grotian) philosophical antecedents; but it is essentially a modern theory, a product (like most of the discipline of international relations) of the unique international situation of the third quarter of the twentieth century. On first approach, the context of a bipolar conflict between rigidly ideologically opposed powers is hardly the most apposite one for a stance which stresses a consensual framework of relations between states. However, Hedley Bull argued that even in the depths of the Cold War, the idea of international society 'survived as an important part of reality.'

It is perhaps the major achievement of writers like Bull, and the great strength of the largely British-based international society school, to have recognised the elements of cooperation which underlay the apparently irreconcilable Cold War opposition. Much more than the school of strategically-oriented international relations, dominant in the United States, which stressed technological rivalry, it has been vindicated by the outcome of the Cold War. To a greater extent than even Bull seems to have thought likely, a shared set of expectations and understandings dominated the behaviour of the political elites in the USA and former USSR. This led - after the crisis of the 'second Cold War' - to a relatively orderly unwinding (at the level of superpower relations at least) of the Cold War.

That the international society perspective stressed the framework of common understandings among states (despite the unpromising Cold War context) is testimony to the strength of broader historical understanding which it brought to the study of the international system. Bull, Wight and others were able to see the Cold War system in the context of a longer historical development and to ask many of the right comparative questions, pointing to the strengths as well as weaknesses of contemporary international society in the light of past models.

It might be thought perverse, in this light, to see the international society position as framed by the Cold War era. Insofar as it has political implications, it was clearly never a Cold Warrior stance in the narrow partisan sense. While its emphasis on the possibilities of the balance of power might have pointed to the long-term maintenance of the Cold War system, it also opened possibilities of a critical interpretation which promised to transcend the Cold War. For so long as entrenched Cold War hostilities rendered the society element uncertain, there was a strong argument to be made for moving beyond this to a more stable basis of international society.

The case for seeing the international society approach as an ideology of the Cold War period - at its best a historically sophisticated and potentially critical ideology with much to offer to any understanding of the international system - lies elsewhere. Essentially it lies in a weakness which is common to virtually all schools of international relations, as the discipline has developed in the 'post-war' period. Like most international relations literature, the writings of the international society school operate with a fundamentally state-centric approach. They are concerned with the international system first and foremost - Bull presents society as an element in that system - and with other realities only as they impinge on that system. Thus although Bull presents world society and world politics as logically and morally prior to international society, he presents no coherent perspective on these which informs his account of the international. Indeed, writing in 1977, he regarded world society as at best an emergent reality.

It might be thought obvious that the international system forms a relatively discrete order of reality, distinct from even as it interacts with world politics in a wider sense, and more broadly with world economy, culture and society. Certainly, modern states behave as though this is the case, in most of their dealings with each other which make up the international system; and empirically it seems correct to describe the development of the framework of self-regulation among modern states, which is called international society. This self-evident separateness of the international system, and within it of international society, is however something which needs to be explained and critically examined.

Just as discussions of international society have their favourite historical periods, such as that of the early 19th century Concert of Europe, they have their rather noticeable absences. It is rather difficult, as even Bull himself acknowledges, to see Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia as bound by common norms of international society. What such questions raise is the issue of whether the Cold War period was itself special in any way - apart from the bipolarisation and ideologisation of international conflict already mentioned, or its nuclearisation which obviously had specific effects - which is pertinent to the theory?

The case which can be made is that the Cold War was unique in the twentieth century in the predominance of international relations over domestic politics and society. The first half of the century saw a dialectic of national and international politics in which neither could be said to be simply dominant. The First World War first subsumed deep the social tensions and political divides in the industrial societies which had developed in the nineteenth century; it then regenerated these in the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements of the inter-war years; these movements (notably fascism and communism) in turn fed into international tensions, polarising Europe and the world between ideologically polarised states.

The Second World War destroyed fascism and turned Stalinism into a ruling ideology in the East but a domesticated oppositional form of labour politics in the West. Its outcome left the single ideologised confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West dominating the politics of all states in the Northern hemisphere. Uniquely in modern history outside war situations, the international unequivocally dominated society and domestic politics. The bipolar conflict largely neutralised - even froze - many minor international conflicts, but it also froze national politics into Cold War variants (Christian democracy, social democracy, Stalinism), and had many corresponding effects in society and culture.

It was in this atypical predominance of international over national politics, with a corresponding reduction of the influence of politics in the wider sense over the international, that international relations grew as a discipline. Theories such as that of international society emphasised the coherence of relations among states as distinct from other political and social relations. (In this context, too, as we saw in chapter 2, sociologists who turned their attention to these issues emphasised the completeness of nation-states' 'surveillance' of societies and the 'geopolitical privacy of states' in relation to their populations.)

All this is now history (as the saying goes). The Cold War period itself contained, as we saw in chapter 3, major prefigurations of the re-emergence of national revolt and social protest as factors in international politics: the revolts of Eastern European peoples, from Berlin in 1953 to Gdansk in 1980, and the peace movements in Western Europe in the early 1980s. All of these were, in their time, defeated, and hence could be seen as ultimately unimportant to the East-West conflict. The crisis of 1989, however, involved a dialectic of superpower detente and Soviet reform with the mass democratic movements in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, which ushered in the most fundamental change in the international system since 1945.

The years since 1989 have seen an escalation of the role of sub-international politics in the international system. Nationalist and ethnic politics in the parts of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have led to an instability of the state-system in Europe not seen since the 1940s, with wars in ex-Yugoslavia (threatening a general Balkan war), and between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and in Moldova and Georgia (all of which threaten to involve Russia and a range of other states, both ex-Soviet republics and others). The dialectic of political movements and international relations, so apparently virtuous in 1989, has become much more vicious in its aftermath. The revival of nationalism may be seen, following Mayall's discussion, as a normal part of the renewal of international society - even Bosnian Serbs seek a place in the community of states for their ethnic mini-state, suitably 'cleansed' of their former neighbours - but it also raises issues of the extent to which sub-national developments dictate the international agenda.

As EC and UN mediators scurry after the minor ethnic warlords of the fragments of Bosnia, Croatia and other ex-Yugoslav republics, as UN troops wobble uncertainly between peacekeeping and peacemaking, as the great powers trade the dangers of intervention against the dangers of a public outcry at (mass mediated) civilian misery and death, it is obvious that something has changed. 'Turbulence in world politics' is not new, but its intensity has been increasing, and in the post-Cold War era is breaking up the insulated categories of international theory in a way which fulfils Rosenau's prophetic view of 'post-international' politics.

In this situation, international society seems both more surely founded and more problematic. The proponents of the concept can take heart from the removal of the Cold War ideological fracture which centrally threatened the cultural coherence of a 'society'. It is now manifest that the major players are the Western powers among whom the rules and underlying assumptions are widely shared; Russia and other ex-Communist states are eager to avow their allegiance and vow allegiance to the same norms and institutions.

It is possible as Buzan has argued to see emerging a gigantic Northern 'security community'. This could stretch from North America and Western Europe, to the major states of the former USSR and Eastern Europe, and to Japan, the newly industrialising states of East Asia, and Australasia. China, as a regional great power and permanent member of the Security Council, is partially implicated, although its democratisation would consolidate its membership and underline the growing implicit connection between international society and political democracy. Other powers, from India to Egypt to Brazil to (a reformed) South Africa, may equally be involved in regional extensions of this community.

At the very moment, however, when such developments seem to strengthen what is referred to as international society, other changes bring it into question. Increasingly it is the interactions between the international system and wider social and political changes which command our attention. International relations between states are increasingly about issues within societies, as the crises of 1991-92 have shown. The Anglo-French-American intervention in northern Iraq was a direct response to media-political pressure in Western societies resulting from the plight of the Kurdish people, even if this was an indirect consequence of the war in Iraq. The Western powers' intervention, increasingly under UN auspices, in Bosnia has increasingly been under the impetus of humanitarian concerns resulting from similarly mediated pressure, even if there are more traditional international issues at stake.

These changes are increasingly modifying what have been seen as the assumptions and institutions of international society. The principles of sovereignty and non-intervention are increasingly problematic. The assumption that international policing is a matter for the great powers, while still holding a good deal of force, is nevertheless qualified by the enlarged role of the UN in coordinating as well as legitimating intervention. No doubt it will be argued that in none of these respects has anything fundamental changed, but this is to ignore the corrosive effects of the ad hoc modifications to international practice, now occurring at a rapid rate. All these changes raise the question of the adequacy of the theoretical perspective of international society.

International society and global society

The concept of international society is seen by its proponents alongside that of international system. The concept of system is the more fundamental and less problematic: it simply requires us to recognise patterns of interactions between states as possessing a coherence which, at least in part, determines their actions and possibly those of others. Bull, whose account of the relationship of system and society is the most careful, recognises the nebulous character of international society by proclaiming it no more than an 'element' in the international system. At the same time, however, he very definitely writes as though it has a capacity for action, as when it acts in common to assure its goals, which seems to ascribe to it a greater degree of reality than that of a mere element in a system.

The concept of an international society is unusual, in a way that that of a system is not, in that societies are usually defined in terms of social relations among individual human beings. International relations as a discipline has the general problem, as we argued in chapter 4, in its state-centredness, treatment of states as actors akin to individuals, and neglect of the complex social relations which bind individuals and states. Bull recognises this in a discussion, rather curious to the sociological eye, of the similarities and differences between the self-regulating society of states (lacking a central political authority) and the primitive stateless societies described by anthropologists. Formally, such a comparison may be quite possible, but Bull ignores the substantive difficulties which arise when we discuss a society composed of what are 'already' (i.e. as a result of 'domestic' characteristics not considered by international theorists) social institutions.

What is apparent here is that the concept and terminology of international society only work providing that the insulation of international studies from theoretical discourse with other social sciences is maintained. Such an insulation cannot be justified in the name of a division of labour in the social sciences. Certainly there is a case that states are a very distinctive and important kind of social institutions, the interactions among which are equally distinctive, and in this sense require a specific mode of understanding which implies a discipline. There is no case which can be sustained, however, which denies the common features between the state and other social institutions or the connections between state-civil society and state-state relations, in the general context of world society. In this sense international relations must be theoretically integrated with the mainstream of the social sciences. Its concepts should be developed not just by analogy with other social sciences - as in Bull's discussion of a stateless society - but consistently with them. The substantive connections between the concepts of international relations and of other social sciences must be clear.

Bull's discussion of international society lays bare a crucial problem in the way he gives a particular meaning to society. By defining society in terms of a consensus between its members he gives a great deal of weight to the its normative coherence. There are, of course, approaches in sociology and anthropology, normally described as functionalist, which have adopted precisely such an approach - although Bull hardly acknowledges the connection. These approaches are widely discredited, however, not just because they tended to underrate social conflict, but because they define society in terms of one of its dimensions - in terms of the discussion in chapter 1, they define it terms of social rather than system integration. Precisely the same could be said of Bull.

As we argued in that chapter, human society can be defined by the existence of relationships involving mutual expectations and understandings, with the possibility of mutually oriented actions. In this sense, society can be said to be far more akin, formally, to the meaning of system used in international relations; the concept of society does not, except in the systems of thought constructed by some functionalists, require consensus around coherent value systems. The existence of such systems is an empirical question, among many others which arise in analysing societies.

From this discussion we can see that, even from a formal point of view, the distinction between system and society is suspect. Even if it were not - if we could accept the identification of society and consensus - there is still the question of the substantive (and terminological) relationship between international society and human society or societies in a wider sense. The terminological issue is not the most important, but it bears thinking about, since it is potentially confusing to talk of a society of states when most societies are understood to be composed of individual human beings. The substantive issue is more important: is international 'society' a sub-set of some kind (a sub-culture?) of human society in some wider sense? Or is it self-sufficient, with no theoretically articulable relationship to the larger pattern of human relations?

Reading Bull, we are left with the feeling that the relationship by analogy may be as important as any substantive relationship. World society is acknowledged as a reference point, and together with world politics is accorded notional priority over the international. World society is, however, seen as something which at best is just starting to come into existence; it does not exist in the way in which international society does. We see, therefore, that the priority of world society is purely nominal, since in any sense which counts the society of states is quite obviously stonger, indeed has greater reality. This conception of world society betrays, however, the same strong meaning of society which we noted above: world society does not exist, for Bull, because it lacks the coherent, shared values and framework of understanding which, to a degree at least, international society possesses.

What if world society, or in today's parlance, global society, does exist? In the weaker sense of a global system of social relations, in which all human beings are to some extent connected, and which covers the entire globe, we do indeed have such a world society. Indeed whereas in the past it might have made sense to talk of discrete human societies, today the concept of 'a society' can only be applied fully and consistently, as we argued in chapter 1, to human society on a world scale. Other usages, whether referring to national, ethnic or tribal societies (British, Kurdish, Zulu) are increasingly arbitrary abstractions from the global flux of social relations. World society exists through the social relations involved in global commodity production and exchange; through global culture and mass media; and through the increasing development of world politics.

The international system of states may appear to be one of the most important, or at least the most developed, systems which order global society; but it is not the only set of institutions to be increasingly organised on a global scale, for economic and cultural institutional networks also have global reach, and we can also talk about these as powerful systems within global society. It may even be the case that we can begin to talk about global society in terms of the development of common values and beliefs, and a common political culture, in which ideas of democracy and national status, for example, are widely diffused.

How are the concepts of global society and international society to be related? It is difficult to explore this issue clearly starting from the concepts supplied by Bull and his co-thinkers. First of all, if global society is defined in terms of a weak (social relationships), and international society in terms of a strong (common values, consensus) meaning of society, the relationship is logically complex. Secondly, there is a case for distinguishing between a society of human individuals and one of states. Thirdly, it is highly desirable that our conceptualisation should assist in defining the transformation of relationships between the international and the global. At the very least, there is a case for a terminological adjustment, but this would seem merely to be an entailment of a substantive theoretical reformulation.

It is proposed here, following from the discussion in chapter 1, that we should distinguish between a society, its culture and institutions. Social relationships on a world scale constitute a society (weak sense). Within this global society, there is a global economic system, with not only world markets, but globally coordinated production. There are increasingly the elements of a global culture, including a political culture, but there are also very many segmentations corresponding to state, national, ethnic, religious, political, class, cultural and lifestyle divisions. Within this global society, too, there are numerous global institutions, among which the state system (international system) is pre-eminent but not exclusively dominant, as well as many more locally based institutions.

From the point of view of global society, the development of what is called international society is the development of the institutions and the institutional culture of the state system in the direction of greater coherence and consensus. Redefining international society in this way, we look at it as a development specific to the state system, but one which reflects this system's role in global society. It is the product not only of developments within the system, but also of the system's with the structures, culture and other institutions of that society.

Viewed in this theoretical light, the development of what is called international society can no longer be seen in purely contingent relationship to the development of global society. Certainly there is no automatic, mechanical connection between globalisation (in the sense of the extension and increasing integration of global society) and the integration of the state system, seen in terms of international society. The latter has its own dynamics which do indeed need to be investigated empirically, both in themselves and in terms of their many and complex relationships to other manifestations of globalisation. Developments in the state system must, however, be studied in the context of the entire picture of the development of world society, which does indeed have theoretical priority.

Adopting this standpoint, we need an understanding of the way in which the processes of economic expansion and cultural diffusion have increasingly created an integrated world society - of which a more tightly integrated state system is an inevitable part. The problem is that global economic integration has been studied apart from the development of the state system, and global cultural integration has hardly been studied at all in general terms. These three main sets of processes are, however, what have together (over centuries and especially the last few decades) created the basis of a world society.

This perspective is important to current international relations debates because it explains why the international system is increasingly not self-sufficient; why sub- and supra-national actors are of growing importance in international politics; why, indeed, we are looking at post-international politics. It explains why we should stop seeing non-state actors as intruders into the system and society of states, and see them instead as actors within global society of which the state system is an institutional component, and whose intrusion is therefore entirely normal and inevitable. It explains why the moral priority which Bull rightly accorded in principle to world society and politics over international society is not of purely utopian significance (as he seemed to believe) but of the utmost practical import in dealing with the issues of the day.

From the ideology of states to global responsibility

The Cold War situation, in which the international state system contained the emergence of global society, is coming to an end. Groups, movements and institutions within global society are making themselves felt within the international states system which politically mediates global social relations. It is only right and proper that they should do so, even if it threatens the assumptions of the state system and challenges the norms of international society such as sovereignty and non-intervention. This is not to say that these norms are wholly redundant, but is to insist that they must be qualified by general accountability to the needs and wishes of the members of global society.

We should welcome this process, however embryonic it may be, and however many strains it introduces into the states system which will then spill over into the lives of people within global society. What is involved, however modestly and contradictorily, is the beginning of the development of what we may call global civil society, in which members of global society are starting to try to make the state system responsible - in the way in which national civil societies have, in the past, generated pressures to ensure the accountability of national states.

At the core of the development of global civil society is the concept of global responsibility. Again embryonically, this idea can be seen at work in a variety of developments - the attempts by global ecological movements to make the state system respond to demands for global environmental management; the attempts by pressure groups to ensure that human rights and democracy are judged by a global standard; and the demands, fuelled by media coverage, to make respect for human needs and human rights effective principles in international conflicts. The pressure on Western governments to intervene to protect the Kurds - to accept responsibility for the indirect victims of their war against Iraq - and to intervene for purely humanitarian reasons in Bosnia-Herzogovina are very recent manifestations of this principle of global responsibility.

Each of these recent interventions has implicitly or explicitly challenged the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention which have been seen as core assumptions of international society. The principles have, of course, been waived or varied in response to similar pressures in the past, and there is nothing to suggest that states are yet willing to subordinate them largely, yet alone entirely, to principles of global responsibility. Rather there has been a real struggle between the instincts of statesmen to maintain the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention, and the pressure from global civil society to transcend them.

The instincts of President Bush and Mr Major were to abstain, in practical terms, from the civil conflicts in Iraq after the Gulf War, even after they had morally and politically incited rebellion against Saddam Hussein. The Shi'as of southern Iraq were effectively abandoned to their fate in March 1991 with US troops a matter of miles from Basra, the main centre of rebellion. The Kurds were likewise abandoned until international political and media pressure suddenly built up in mid-April 1991. Even after intervention, the allies and the UN maintained the fiction of Iraqi sovereignty in seeking Iraqi agreement to the operation of UN relief agencies (the fiction cost them dearly in official currency rates and other Iraqi rake-offs). Nevertheless, in military terms the ceasefire agreement itself breached Iraqi sovereignty by providing for intensive UN surveillance of Iraqi military preparations.

In this episode, it was quite clear that Western leaders were operating with an ideology of international society, in which the defeated Iraqi state, however exposed as morally and politically bankrupt, was still accorded the rights and prerogatives of a sovereign state. While the allies were prepared to breach these in their own state interests (the control of weapons of mass destruction) they still upheld the concept of non-intervention where it was merely an issue of a threat to Iraq's own citizens. Only under severe political pressure from an implicit stance of global responsibility did they concede intervention.

In the Yugoslav case, the ideology of international society operated against any idea of intervention when it first became apparent - in the repression of Kosova in the later 1980s - that an aggressive nationalist regime had come to power in Serbia which was precipitating the break-up of Yugoslavia. The conception that these were the domestic problems of a sovereign state prevailed, as Western states and international bodies continued to recognise Yugoslavia long after its demise had become inevitable, and without seriously attempting to intervene to regulate the break-up in terms of principles like respect for existing borders, the rights of minorities and human rights in general. When the bankruptcy of this policy was finally apparent, the EC transferred its recognition to the new states of Slovenia and Croatia (but not Macedonia), again without attempting to regulate the conditions for Croatian independence in a way which would have created an acceptable recognition of Serbian minority rights. Its actions only stimulated the war in Croatia, which it then ineffectually attempted to monitor, and paved the way for the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the final irony, although recognising the new Bosnian state and notionally admitting it to international society, the West made no attempt to help secure its reality on the ground but largely abandoned it to its fate. Only when the media made it clear that this potentially included the slow starvation of half a million people in Sarajevo, the 'ethnic cleansing' of over a million Muslims and Croats, massacres and concentration camps, did the pressure of global civil society push the West to define - at the London conference of August 1992 - the principles with which it should have tried to regulate the situation, politically, from 1989 or 1990 onwards, so as to prevent war. Under this pressure, too, West European military intervention increased under UN auspices but without any clear political goals. By mid-1993 it was evident that Western states were unwilling to seriously defend threatened civilians in this crisis.

The international society ideology of Western states has been cruelly exposed in these crises. On ad hoc basis, forces from within the emerging global civil society have proposed different principles of intervention. What is surely required now is to systematise the demands of global responsibility in a new conception of the roles, rights and duties of citizens, society, states, the system of states and of international institutions. Much of the intellectual infrastructure for such a conception is already available in the principles already adopted by international organisations and theoretically subscribed to by states, as well as in the positions adopted by groupings in civil society.

The crucial issue, then, is to face up to the necessity which enforcing these principles would impose to systematically breach the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention. A global society perspective requires recognition in the institutions and culture of the state system of the demands of society for accountability. This must include the increasingly systematic intervention of international society and international institutions in individual states which fail to meet acceptable standards.

This process, moreover, is not merely a matter of disciplining an Iraq or a Serbia, but involves issues such as the role of USA, Japan and the European Community states in the distribution of global wealth and the use of energy resources; it could also involve calling the USA to account for unilateral military interventions like those in Grenada and Panama. In this sense, the issues raised are large and the interests threatened are to some extent those of all states. This means, of course, that we are unlikely to see a fundamental and explicit shift in the direction advocated here. The issues are likely to remain foci of contestation over a very long period of time.

The global society perspective, therefore, has an ideological significance which is ultimately opposed to that of international society. No decisive result can be expected, at a political and ideological level, to the conflict between these two positions, for the simple reason that while the pressures for global responsibility are growing, the strength of the international system and of the great powers within it are still formidable. While the global society perspective can no longer be dismissed, as Bull dismissed Falk's earlier raising of global environmental perspectives, as naive or utopian, it is unlikely to become central to world politics in the short or medium term.

What can be done is for international theorists and theorists of global society to clarify the relations between different systems of concepts, with the aim of producing consistent ideas which clarify the new realities of the post-Cold War era. It is to this task that this chapter has addressed itself, in the hopes of pointing out the ideological character and theoretical, historical and political limitations of the international society perspective.

Copyright ©Martin Shaw 2000. Chapters are available to download for personal study only. Any unauthorised reproduction, electronic or printed, is an infringement of copyright.